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Understanding Periodontal Disease in Cats

6 min read

Updated - Feb 16th, 2022

Establishing a dental maintenance routine for your cat at an early age is vital for their health and overall happiness. While diseases of the teeth and gums are common in cats, if left untreated, significant discomfort and health complications can occur. In many cases, dental diseases cause a cat to stop eating, which can lead to a variety of health problems and affect their quality of life. 

Periodontal disease, or periodontitis, is the infection and associated inflammation of the periodontium, or the tissues surrounding a cat’s tooth. There are four tissues that make up the periodontium: the gingiva, the cementum (covering of the root surface), the periodontal ligament (the ligament attaching the tooth root to the bone) and the alveolar bone. 

Since it’s a very painful condition for your feline friend, periodontal disease often requires professional veterinary dental care. Fortunately, periodontal disease and other common teeth and gum diseases are largely preventable or treatable with appropriate preventative dental care and monitoring.

Is periodontal disease common in cats? 

Periodontal disease in cats is one of the most common and serious cat health problems, and it affects approximately 70% of cats by the time they’re three years old. Dental diseases affect 50% to 90% of cats over the age of four but tend to be more common and more severe in adult cats. Cats infected with feline leukemia or calicivirus also have a greater chance of developing periodontal disease. 

How do cats get periodontal disease? 

Periodontal disease in cats can be caused by a variety of factors, but the most common are bacterial infections and early stages of inflammation in the gums. If food particles and bacteria accumulate along a cat’s gum line, it can form plaque. When plaque is combined with saliva and minerals, it transforms into tartar that leads to the irritation and inflammation of the gum edges, known as gingivitis

If gingivitis isn’t treated properly, it can lead to further inflammation of other tissues of the periodontium, and eventually progress into periodontitis. As the gum grows increasingly inflamed, other bacteria start to cause further damage, which can lead to the gum receding around a tooth. Eventually, in extreme cases and if not treated properly, the tissue that attaches the tooth is weakened, and the tooth may become loose. 

Gingivitis is reversible, but bone loss associated with periodontal disease is not. Therefore, it’s important that periodontal disease is diagnosed early in order to truly treat it; it’s both difficult and expensive to correct for damaged or lost tissue, as well as to compensate for further complications of gum disease. 

What are the symptoms of periodontal disease in cats? 

Most cat owners complain about their feline friend’s bad breath, but aren’t aware that bad breath is actually an underlying symptom for dental disease. Cats don’t show us when they’re in pain unless it’s severe, and pain in their teeth or mouth is hard to spot because cats will continue eating until the dental problems are advanced and very painful.

Periodontitis is almost always the result of untreated gingivitis, which might cause your cat to drool excessively, turn their heads to the side when chewing, or be reluctant or unwilling to eat. Additional symptoms include: 

● Red or swollen gums 

● Bleeding along the gingiva at the base of their teeth 

● Persistent bad breath 

● Tooth discoloration or visible tartar 

● Pawing at the teeth or mouth 

● Chewing on only one side of the mouth 

● Difficulty picking up food or dropping food out of the mouth 

● Resistance to tooth brushing 

● Irritability or moodiness 

In extreme cases, cats may also show recession of the gingiva, exposure of tooth root surfaces, mobility of the teeth, and the loss of one or more teeth. 

How is periodontal disease in cats diagnosed and treated? 

If you’re concerned your cat may have the beginning stages of periodontal disease, schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. They will perform an oral examination of your cat’s mouth to look for red and inflamed gums, and may press gently on their gums to evaluate bleeding. The vet may also perform full dental x-rays of your cat’s mouth under general anesthesia, which will reveal if any underlying dental structures have lost normal density and definition. Bone loss within the jaw will also show up on the images, indicating advanced periodontal disease. 

If the inflammation is minimal, your vet will recommend a thorough dental cleaning to remove as much of the built up tartar, plaque, and bacteria as possible. If your kitty has an annual teeth cleaning, this procedure will be relatively quick and easy. The vet may perform teeth polishing or deep and thorough cleaning of the periodontal pockets to prevent further plaque and tartar build up.

In the event of bone tissue loss, a procedure called guided tissue regeneration, a therapy aimed at helping to restore lost bone tissue around important teeth, may be performed to reverse bone loss. It also provides teeth stability and can make the cat significantly healthier long-term. Periodontal surgery may also be needed to remove diseased tissue. In the most severe cases of tooth root exposure and bone loss, tooth extraction may be required. 

How can I help prevent my cat from getting periodontal disease? 

With the knowledge that periodontal disease isn’t reversible, early diagnosis is important in order to treat it and avoid potential tooth loss. The best way to prevent periodontal disease and other dental diseases in cats is by removing plaque build-up by daily teeth brushing. A child-size toothbrush, gauze sponge, dental wipe, or finger brush are the most common tools. However, it may be worth investing in a specially made toothbrush specifically for cats. Human toothpaste should be avoided, as it contains fluoride, which is toxic to cats if they swallow it. Enzymatic pet toothpaste is now available in flavors such as chicken and seafood. 

Regular visits to your vet, which can include an oral exam and dental cleaning, are also recommended. These procedures are the most impactful methods of prevention, as they allow vets to thoroughly examine each individual tooth and prevent further deterioration. Depending on your cat’s oral health, they may require a teeth cleaning every four months. 

How much does it cost to treat periodontal disease in cats? 

Generally, a dental exam, including a standard oral exam, x-rays, anesthesia, and professional cleaning will cost you between $800 and $1600. However, severe dental procedures can quickly become more expensive, with extractions being the most common reason for higher costs. The cost for dental exams vary depending on the age and size of your cat, and a dental exam for a cat with good oral health compared to one with periodontal disease will also be significantly lower in cost. 

If your cat develops periodontal disease, Pumpkin’s cat insurance plans can help you pay for vet visits and treatment to ensure you give them the best care pawsible. 

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*Pumpkin Pet Insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions. Waiting periods, annual deductible, co-insurance, benefit limits and exclusions may apply. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/insurancepolicy. Products, discounts, and rates may vary and are subject to change. Pumpkin Insurance Services Inc. (Pumpkin) (NPN#19084749) is a licensed insurance agency, not an insurer. Insurance is underwritten by United States Fire Insurance Company (NAIC #21113. Morristown, NJ), a Crum & Forster Company and produced by Pumpkin. Pumpkin receives compensation based on the premiums for the insurance policies it sells. For more details visit pumpkin.care/underwriting-information and pumpkin.care/insurance-licenses

Christina is a copywriter and a loving cat mom to an adorable Bombay named Zetta.